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Lent 4C Sermon
Luke 15: 1-3, 11b-32
March
31, 2019

 

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In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit; Amen.

It is a story that you know just as well as I do … Now all the tax-collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to Jesus. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.” So, he told them this parable: ‘There was a man who had two sons. The younger of them said to his father, “Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.” So, he divided his property between them. A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and travelled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living. When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. So, he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. But when he came to himself, he said, “How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.’” So, he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. Then the son said to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” But the father said to his slaves, “Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. And get the fatted calf and kill it and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!” And they began to celebrate.

‘Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. He replied, “Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.” Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. But he answered his father, “Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!” Then the father said to him, “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.”
We know it so well that it has lost it’s effect on us. But sometimes, someone says something about a well-known story that grabs my attention and helps me look at it from a new and refreshing way – a way that I may not have ever considered before. That has happened to me this week. I was reading a commentary by Amanda Brobst-Renaud, a professor of religion at Valparaiso, University. Amanda points out that the father in Jesus’ memorable story leaves the threshold of his home twice – once to welcome his younger son home, and a second time to invite the elder son to join them in the party.

She says, “We must not forget that the extravagance of the father is not only illustrated by his directions to the slaves upon the younger son’s return but also in his response that, ‘all that I have is yours,’ to the elder son’s protests at the extravagance of the party. The father cannot imagine the party without both sons’ presence. Though the younger son may be the guest of honor at the party, the party is just as necessary for the elder as it is the younger.”

I must admit, I have often gotten caught up in the details of this story, delving, parsing, dissecting until every nook and cranny is explored. The insult that the younger son’s request basically meant that he wished his father was dead. The reasons for his poverty – dissolute, or riotous, living, an ill-timed famine, his inability to do any skilled labor … whether he was really genuinely contrite when he returned to his father … the gaudy display of affection on the part of the father, to run to him which was so out of character for a man of his stature. The extravagance of the feast and the party, the jealousy of the elder brother, and finally, the fact that those of us who have been life-long Christians are probably more like that older brother than the younger. Every detail can elicit yet another nuance that may or may not be helpful as we consider our relationship with God and with our fellow human beings.

But what if we just let this parable be what it is … a story told by Jesus to help us to understand the amazing grace of our loving God? What if we take a step back and see that at different times in our lives we could identify with any of the three main characters and their different emotions? According to professor Renaud, the parable invites us to sit with the younger son in the messes of his own making … with the elder son in the bitterness and fear of being overlooked … and with the father as he leaves the comfort of his home to bring in all that is lost and feeling forsaken. We have all been in each one of those circumstances, haven’t we? It is because of brokenness that we have experienced them, and God comes to each of us in those different broken relationships and embraces us with love, inviting us to the Kingdom Party where food and drink are symbols of abundance and joy and life.

Listen to professor Renaud’s final paragraph in her commentary: “Part of the reason this story is so compelling and so beloved is because we are never only one of the characters. Who among us has not squandered the love that we have been given? Who among us has not felt the bitter sting of insecurity and fear at being left out? Who among us has not chased after love, hoping it will be returned? Perhaps the temptation to allegorize will prove too tantalizing to resist, as we recognize in ourselves the deep hope and hunger that someone … God … will leave the threshold to come find us when we are lost or will invite us into the party in the midst of our fear of being left out.”

I hope that you are able to hear this old familiar story in a new refreshing way, and that you are able to make new connections between your life and God’s love. I would like to close by singing a new version of probably one of the most recognized songs – let alone church songs – there is, Amazing Grace. I learned this version at Church camp … it is a new tune. Just as Amanda Probst-Renaud’s comments brought new insight for me (and hopefully for you) from this familiar story from Jesus, I hope this version of this song can speak to you in a new and vibrant way.

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, That saved a wrench like me.
I once was lost but now am found, was blind but now I see,
Lord have mercy … Lord have mercy … Lord have mercy … Lord have mercy.

Twas grace that taught my heart to fear, and grace my fears relieved;
How precious did that grace appear, the hour I first believed.
Lord have mercy … Lord have mercy … Lord have mercy … Lord have mercy.

Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so,
Little ones to him belong, they are weak but he is strong.
Lord have mercy … Lord have mercy … Lord have mercy … Lord have mercy.
Amen …